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VACCINE

Why pressure is growing on Spain’s government to extend state of alarm

With infections again on the rise and Europe's vaccine rollout delayed over clotting concerns, the Spanish national government is under pressure to extend the state of alarm to fight the pandemic.

Pedro Sanchez
Andres BALLESTEROS / POOL / AFP

Activated in October, the state of alarm allows the central and regional governments to adopt measures that curb individual freedoms, such as imposing curfews and closing regional borders to anyone moving without just cause. It is due to expire on May 9th.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said his government does not intend to prolong it, arguing the regional authorities have “sufficient tools” to tackle the crisis and that a vaccine was now available.

“The circumstances are different,” he said during a debate in parliament on Wednesday. “The alternative to a state of emergency is a vaccination programme, which is intensifying.”

When it was declared in October, Spain was in a “serious” situation with a 14-day incident rate of 362 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, he said.

Now, although the daily caseload has been rising, that rate stands at around 200.

But many regional governments – which are responsible for health care – fear that lifting it will throw them into a legal limbo that will hurt efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 and are pushing for an extension.

Inigo Urkullu, head of the northern Basque Country region, has warned it would remove the “legal guarantees” for imposing measures like restrictions on mobility.

Regions popular with domestic tourists are especially worried about losing the ability to ban travel in and out of their territory, fearing an influx of visitors from areas with higher infection rates, once the emergency ends.

READ ALSO: The regions of Spain where restrictions are likely to remain after the state of alarm

‘Recklessness’

Aitor Esteban, parliamentary spokesman for Urkullu’s nationalist PNV party, a crucial ally of Sánchez’s minority government, accused the premier of “recklessness”.

And the pro-independence Basque party EH Bildu, accused Sánchez of playing politics “to win a handful of votes” in Madrid’ upcoming regional election on May 4th. “It’s insulting,” said Bildu spokeswoman Mertxe Aizpurua.

An initial state of emergency was declared when the pandemic first broke out, which lasted until mid-June when authority for managing the pandemic was handed to Spain’s 17 regions.

Extending the measure would require parliamentary approval in the 350-seat chamber where Sánchez’s left-wing coalition holds a minority, forcing him into a new round of political negotiation.

But as time went on, the courts began overturning certain measures such as partial lockdowns in certain areas, or limiting the numbers of visitors at home.

Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo on Thursday insisted that “99 percent” of the time, the courts had backed measures taken by the regions.

“Aside from confining people to their homes, almost everything else is possible under existing health laws,” she said.

Adding to the pressure, Spain like other EU nations is facing delays to its vaccine rollout due to concerns the Janssen and AstraZeneca jabs could cause blood clots.

Experts divided

Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday said it would delay the European rollout of its Janssen vaccine while Spain has limited AstraZeneca to people aged between 60-69.

READ ALSO: Johnson & Johnson halts delivery of 300,000 vaccine doses to Spain

But the government has continued to insist it will meet its target of vaccinating 70 percent of Spain’s population by the end of August.

The country has already immunised those most at risk of dying from Covid so the mortality rate from the pandemic is now lower, said Guillem Lopez-Casasnovas, an expert on healthcare systems at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University.

“I agree that the state of emergency can be lifted unless the situation gets a lot worse due to a new variant of the virus,” he told AFP.

So far some 3.2 million people in Spain have been fully vaccinated, mainly residents and workers in nursing homes and older people who were given priority. More than 76,000 people have died in Spain from Covid-19.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: How is Spain’s vaccination campaign going in April? 

Salvador Macip, a health sciences expert at Catalonia’s Open University, disagrees, arguing it is too soon to end the state of emergency since “vaccination is still not at the point where we can feel safe”.

“I think it is a bit dangerous, I don’t think it is justifiable epidemiologically,” he told AFP.

Member comments

  1. Help avoid deaths to love your neighbors guys! Luke_12 & 14 forsake everything, and everybody, and your self for Him.
    Luke_16 work for J, never for money, then J will give you food and clothes.
    Matthew_28 share the Truth of J to everyone.
    John_17 work together in peace and love.
    Do not take the Mark of the Beast; right hand or forehead, to be the only way to buy or sell (not a mask or vaccine, but could be a quantum implant/tattoo). The Revelation 13 to 14.
    USA maybe the Babylon, to be destroyed with fire in 1 hour. Revelation 17 to 18. J & I love you all.

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FACE MASKS

Spain announces end of public transport face mask rule

Spain's Health Minister has announced that in the coming days masks will no longer be mandatory on planes, buses, trains, taxis and other means of public transport.

Spain announces end of public transport face mask rule

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday confirmed that face masks would no longer be compulsory on public transport, a measure which has been in place in Spain for almost three years. 

“I will raise the proposal of eliminating the mandatory use of masks on public transport”, she said, adding that next week she will convene with the Interterritorial Council of the National Health System to “put this measure into effect”.  

Darias did not specify exactly when this would happen, although government agreements are usually approved the following day in the Official State Gazette (BOE), so the official end to the mask rule looks set to be on February 8th.

The minister did clarify however that masks would still be mandatory in health settings such as health centres and hospitals “as health experts advise”. 

Last week, Darias reported the possibility of eliminating the mandatory mask rule in pharmacies, but this is currently being “weighed up” by health experts.  

Manuel Franco, an expert in Public Health and a member of the Spanish Society of Public Health and Sanitary Administration (Sespas) explained that “the World Health Organisation (WHO) is already considering the decision to lift the public health emergency warning for Covid-19” and adds that “if this goes ahead, it would make no sense to maintain the mask rule”.  

The use of masks ceased to be mandatory outdoors almost a year ago, on February 10th, 2022.

Then, two months later on April 20th, the government announced they wouldn’t be required indoors either, except in health centres and on public transport. 

The latest bulletin of Sentinel Surveillance of Acute Respiratory Infection in Primary Care (ARIs) and in Hospitals (SARI), announced a drop in infections and hospitalisations and said that the rates for Covid-19 remain stable.

The decision to end the mask rule in February comes after health experts who advise the Spanish Ministry of Health said that masks should no longer be required on public transport

On Wednesday, January 25th the director of the Health Alerts and Emergencies Coordination Centre of the Ministry of Health (CCAES), Fernando Simón, assured that the end of the mask rule on transport would be announced “shortly” either “next week or the following”.  

Then, on Thursday morning, government spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez, stated that the decision to remove the mask on public transport would be taken “immediately, when possible”, but pointed out that the government was looking at the situation in China first. 

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